On 13 January I am flying to the capital of the Indian Union, which since the HQ of the British Raj moved there from Calcutta is known as New Delhi. I will be leaving from Brussel airport at 10.05 and should/might arrive at 22.30. I will stay in Delhi till 03.05 on 22 January, and after that will be unlikely to go travelling till June.
For many Sikhs the main concern after landing at ING Airport is how to get to Panjab. I am staying in Delhi and my concern is how to get to New Moti Nagar where Amrik Singh (airport) and his family are staying. Their son Dildíp Singh is to marry Jaspreet Kaur, who is from that part of Delhi.
I am supposed to be picked up from the airport, but in case that goes wrong my ‘plan b’ is to take the airport bus to New Delhi station and find a room in one of the many hotels in Pahar Ganj.
The wedding is on the 16th of January, which means that I have time before and after the wedding to visit the main Gurdwaré of the city, like Rakáb Ganj, Bangla Sáhib and Sís Ganj. Those that know me and my funny ways will not be surprised to hear that I also plan to travel around on the new metro system of the city.
Wandering about in old Dillí is another of my priorities, as I love the old cities of the subcontinent. In their narrow, overcrowded and often dirty streets I feel most at home. Even in Peshawar and Lahore I was perfectly safe walking around on my own in the old bazaars. Lahore and Peshawar are very interesting and wonderfully diverse cities, where the people were surprised to see an ‘Angrezí’ Sikh. This did not stop them from making me feel very welcome.
If you read the first few chapters of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim you get a glimpse of how cosmopolitan Lahore was in those days. Lahore, Delhi and Amritsar all suffered because of the bloody exchange of populations in 1947. In areas like Tilak Nagar in Delhi, which was badly hit by the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984, lived many Sikhs who had to leave their homes and land behind after partition.
The independence of countries like Turkmenistan, Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan brought back visitors from those parts of the world to both halves of Panjab. Let’s hope that there will be no new Moghul conquerors amongst them. The interaction between the sub-continental and the Moghul cultures enriched India, but present-day Muslim rulers would probably be more like Aurangzeb than like Akbar !
India is entering the 21st century, although even in the booming southern cities many people seem still not to have reached the 20th one. Old man and amateur historian that I am, I love the old fashioned ways, the narrow streets, the donkeys, cows and buffaloes, the open sewers, the tiny shops and the streets jam-packed with rickshaws, autos and pedestrians. I love to be part of the colourful crowds of India, provided that ‘loose motion’ does not get me down.